Smart Home Transition

Being about three months away from Dayton, and four months out until the next contest, with June VHF and Field Day within a couple weeks of each other, I think it may be time to put the radio talk on hold for a little bit – there’s a lot of other stuff going on! What’s on the agenda? Well – this blog is going to go back to more than just radio – with moving into a new house, sure there’s going to be some radio talk, in fact I’ve started to setup a nice shack area (see below), but we’re also (kind of) converting it to a smart home. We talked about it before we moved in, and had decided not to do the whole smart home concept, but as we’re going along and replacing odds and ends like light bulbs and the thermostat, I’m noticing some of these items have nice energy monitoring features that I really like, so I’ve said screw it, and we’re slowly transitioning over to a semi-smart home. The first question to ask was what ecosystem of smart products do we want to go with? What do we use for our control, and hub? Well, a few months ago I had a coupon for Best Buy, and they had just started running all of the specials on the Eco Dot’s, with the 3rd Generation being $24.99 – that plus $10 off? Sure, let’s get an Echo to play with. A few weeks later Christmas shopping, I bought something that allowed me to purchase an Amazon Smart Plug for $5 – well… sure, I’ll try it. Let’s see how useful it is! I had the Christmas lights plugged into it all month, and it was really nice to be able to go, “whoops, I left them on!” and go to the app and turn them off. In the real transition to the smart home setup though, we’ve begun changing out all of the old incandescent light bulbs, and installing Phillips Hue lights, using an Echo Plus as a Hub. The Echo Plus came with a Hue bulb as well – and I had a 30% off coupon for that device as well. So far so good, and we’re up to 8 lights – 7 of which are Alexa controlled, and one using a Hue Dimmer Switch. One thing that I’ve read is that when you’re getting closer to 20 or so bulbs, the hub in the Echo starts to get a little laggy, so moving over to a Hue hub is the way to go then – with that said, I don’t think that we have that many light sockets in the house where that’ll ever be a worry.

There are a bunch of the smart thermostats on the market, but after a lot of research, finding a sale, and holding a store to their Price Match guarantee, I was sold on the Ecobee 3 lite. The beauty of the Ecobee is the lack of having to mess around when you have an older system. The furnace is about 15 years old, which isn’t all that old, but it’s just old enough where it’s lacking some of the extra wires needed for items like the Nest, or Emerson. The Ecobee provides an adapter kit, so thermostats with four wire connections can be adapted to send power from the furnace to the thermostat that would normally be sent via a fifth wire. This thermostat offers all of the same capabilities of the others, such as vacation programming, scheduling, daily settings, etc.., integration with just about any assistant that you would want to use (Don’t think it’s compatible with Cortana, so sorry to the three people that use that), requires no Hub to function, and is about half of the price of others on the market. How can you go wrong?

I think that this is where we’re going to keep it for now, I’m looking into the Wyze Camera’s, they’re one of the highest rated out there right now, an American company, and their products are only $20, and $30 respectively. For that price, it’s worth trying, but for now, I think we’ll hold back at the pseudo smart home status, and finish getting settled for the time being..

Field Day 2018 is here and gone – W2RCX Club Wrapup

It’s the largest contest of the year! The one with the most activity in North America at least. Though it being a contest isn’t what it’s all about. Field Day is meant to be an exercise in emergency preparation, and it’s a great exercise in communication, cooperation, and knowing what you can do in a pinch. In the last 4 years, we in Genesee County, NY have resurrected a club. While we have a small membership, we all meet the third Friday of each month and discuss amateur radio related events, and topics. Of course our meeting in June, which was a week before Field Day, was related to preparations we were making to ensure that we were ready to be on the air at 2pm kickoff of Amateur Radio’s biggest day in our neck of the woods.

Our station setup was at the Genesee Community College in Batavia, NY. Great vantage point for VHF/UHF communications (which never fully got on the air), as well as plenty of trees for us to run our dipoles, and couple of beams that we had. We operated as 3A, and we had our VHF station as well, in the night hours/wee hours of the morning, our transmitters went from utilizing all bands possible, to two of us being on the air, one running 40m CW, and myself running 80m Voice. At 2:30am, I was working my way through a pileup on 80m Voice, which is a little different for me. I don’t usually call CQ at night, I usually Search and Pounce, but with that being said I thought about how many other people out there are doing the same thing… somebody out there has to be the one calling!

Our setup was pretty much the same as last year, however working with the new location had a few perks – last year being our first as the “new” club, we were in search for a spot for a while, however we were able to use the Genesee County Fairgrounds, which worked great! Up until Saturday evening, when the racetrack nearby started up, and suddenly everyone had to slap on headphones. We had three motorhomes on site, two of which ran stations, one running an Icom IC-7100, and the other running a Yaesu FT-991. In addition, there were two large tents (one is on the other side of the GMC motorhome), one of which also had a 991 setup, and the other contained our VHF station running an Icom IC-9100. In the middle of the site (under the orange popup) was our little Honda generator which was more than enough to power all of the stations with no problem. For HF antennas we ran an 80m OCF, and a 40m Dipole, as well as a RadioWavz Scout, which is good on 10-40. For VHF, we ran a stack of Moxons for 6/2/220, and for 440/900 we had a few beams, however I won’t go into detail for those, as we never got VHF on the air beyond 6m.

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We were able to achieve a couple of bonuses, the first being contacts off of an alternative power source, which we were able to do using a solar charged battery. The second was by making a satellite contact, we were unable to get the initial contact on AO-92, however an hour after that attempt we were able to make a contact on AO-91 (video to come later, still needs to be taken off camera).

All in all we stepped up our game from last year, I haven’t compared our overall contact difference, but I believe that we were able to improve upon last year for sure. We had a few new licensees that we were able to get on the air with, and allow them to experience more than 10m on HF. In addition, though it was nothing like the VHF contest, we did have a small 6m opening to the South, and intermittently to the West, on Sunday morning, allowing us to work Kansas, Nebraska, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia. I am a little bitter about how many stations simply flocked to 50.313, and solely used FT-8. With how open that band was – in and out, yes, but still open – there should have been more activity than there was.

We stepped up our game from last year, there are some improvements to be made going into next year in regards to station setup, software we want to run, etc., so I guess that means it’s time to start prepping for next year!

VR vs AR – Gamers, Enterprise, and Enterprising Gamers

I’m going to preface this by saying that I love VR. There’s something about video games that you can just get absolutely lost in such as Farpoint, or that singular Battlefront mission where every geek like me can live their dream of being an X-Wing pilot for about 20 mins that’s just absolutely amazing. Video Games, Movies, we all have out little escapes that we like that we can access right from the comfort of our own home. Then we have AR, Augmented Reality, which is a little more dicey, but it’s still really neat. Sadly the best experience that we have with AR it seems (for the moment at least) is still Pokemon Go. I would expect more over the next few years as it has only been a year since companies like Apple announced DevKits for AR.

But both of these technologies have way more to offer than gaming, could you imagine being an assembly line employee, wearing your MS Hololens, or Google Glass, and seeing exactly where, and how your part has to be assembled, step by step, with a holographic outline? Well, you don’t really have to imagine too much as the technology is already in play… at lease software wise. Boeing (in the previously linked article) is toying around with it a little bit, but the fact of the matter is that the data usage is astronomical using networked machines, needing quite a capable wireless access system, not to mention the computing power required. Sure, use within the manufacturing industry is going to be a lot less intensive than gaming, you’re not rendering full 3D, 360 degree worlds (180 at a time, but the other 180 has to be rendered as you move), NPC’s, and whatever else is needed for the particular game, however you will have to render a part, instructions, and likely text displays as well, which isn’t going to be a small task still. What I think of is the potential when it comes to training – you still have someone shadowing to demonstrate company process, tricks of the trade, etc., however with AR glasses, or even just utilizing an AR application on a phone or tablet, you’re able to be 100% walked through, with step by step instructions in front of your face, which should alleviate any question of the actual assembly process exponentially.

I think the real test for this technology is going to be the gaming world though, as a lot of things are. If you can win over the gamers with a solid design, reasonable price, and a peak performance, you’ll be able to win over most anybody else as the gaming community tends to be very meticulous when it comes to new computer technology, and perfection within it. AR maybe not as much – when the calibration of the Z axis within AR begins to finally remain in a stable location, and not continually drift, I think that’s when it will become fully accepted as a daily piece of technology, but until then, there’s still some work to do. When it comes to VR, I believe that technology will never fully get past gaming and entertainment. Sure, training videos could be a good idea with this, but AR is really where enterprise will thrive, VR is too disconnected. In the world that we live in today, eternally connected to one another, for someone to be able to put on a headset and be in their own separate world, it’s not personal enough. We interact day to day, minute to minute, either over the phone, or face to face – whether it be IRL, or via Skype, Lync, WebEx or what have you. We will use VR for our immersive escapes, or for photos, or videos of prior vacations we took, but never any more.

What do you think? Is AR the wave of the future for enterprise, or is that a technology that is going to lay down where it is too?